Statesman Says Travis Judges Allow Occupational Driver's License Law to be Used as Loophole in Administrative License Revocation (ALR) Cases

In a series of articles and television stories the Austin American Statesman and KVUE recently took aim at the manner in which Travis County judges grant occupational driver’s licenses to folks who've had their licenses yanked for either refusing a breath test or failing one. The press pointed out a number of seemingly startling observations. Namely, that the Texas legislature passed the administrative license revocation laws (ALR) to get drunk drivers off the road immediately and through a loophole (the occupational license law) lawyers were getting their clients back on the road with the help of Travis County judges. Not only that, but the lawyers were exploiting the system and using the suspension hearings to try and beat the DWI's.

Whoa hold on there boy. Aren’t you jumping to a few conclusions mighty rapido.
Remember now, at the time the State of Texas strips these licenses no one has been convicted of anything. A police officer has simply sworn that probable cause for a DWI exists. One of the articles made no bones about it-“Lawmakers at the time said they wanted to provide a measure of swift punishment to suspected drunken drivers, long before their cases go to court.” That’s fairly frightening. Punishment first. Trial later. It's enough to make any junior high civics student shudder.

The complaint was made that the administrative license revocation laws enabled defense lawyers to get discovery on their DWI cases by having the officers testify before trial. The reason for this is as old as the Fifth Amendment. It’s called due process. Before you can strip someone of a right or privilege, such as a driver's license or public employment, you have to afford them the opportunity to be heard. If that enables an accused to preview the DWI case or commit the officer to specific testimony-so be it. That’s the nature of the system. The same can be said of any pretrial hearing in any criminal case or parallel civil proceeding (such as a protective order hearing when assault charges are pending). All part of the system. Nothing nefarious. That’s how it works. The state giveth. The state taketh away but first you have to let me cross examine the witness. So what, anyway. The officer testifies twice.  Maybe some DWI case that deserves to get thrown out because the witness can’t keep his stories straight, gets thrown out. That wouldn’t be such a tragedy would it?

No mention in the articles of the fact that the hapless DWI’er gets punished twice-a suspension before trial and one after trial, if convicted. Or that these Travis County judges who supposedly hand out occupational licenses like candy regularly impose (as the law requires in many instances) an ignition interlock condition at the cost of hundreds of dollars per year to the defendant. No mention of what we lawyers who deal with these cases call a “blackout period”(no pun intended) or “hard suspension”(a mandatory suspension that can range for a period of 90 days to a year during which no occupational license can be obtained in certain DWI cases with prior convictions).

I guess what galls me about the front page blitz is the intimation that something shifty is going on. You mean elected judges using their discretion, which is what we pay them to do, are letting people drive so they can go to work or to probation meetings or to AA meetings. “The whole thing takes no more than 15 seconds”, the Statesman eagerly quoted County Court at Law Judge Nancy Hohengarten. I expected  to read that the judges were signing these orders over in the corner of the courtroom with the lights dimmed.